I just got done watching Extraordinary Measures, a movie that frankly flew way under my radar, but one I think everyone should see.
I am not what you would consider a person prone to emotional outbursts. Some have even claimed that I have a bit too much logic and reason, but frankly I was crying through half this movie. It tells the tale of a family who has two children with Pompe. A debilitating illness that affects the muscles. The most heartbreaking symptom is that almost all of the patients die before they turn 10 years old.
This is the tale of a couple of motivated parents and some dedicated scientists who discover a treatment that will control the symptoms of the illness. It is a heart warming movie with an ending which, if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you might want to get your brain looked at.
What I liked so very much about this movie however is that it perfectly demonstrates the beauty, wonder and usefulness of science. These parents have children struck down with the most horrible of symptoms, and instead of getting down on their knees and praying to an invisible sky daddy to grant them health, they work themselves to the bone using advanced science to develop and a treatment that saves their lives.
This movie points out a lot of things that religious people often overlook. It is scientists who work hard to bring cures to sick children. You could pray till you are blue in the face and it wouldn’t be as useful as the treatment that the hard working and heroic scientists develop for these little kids.
People often wonder if you can’t have morality, or hope, or art, or wonder without a god this movie illustrates the beauty and awe and joy and wonder that scientific discovery can create. All of these things are possible without involving some iron age sky creature that tells you when you can eat certain foods, or what kind of people can get married.
Not only is it a heart warming and thrilling tale of science as the hero, it also demonstrates in a more subtle way the dangers of moving away from science. Every child you teach creationism to a kid instead of evolution through natural selection, every time you tell a kid that something is simply “gods will” or “only god knows” you may be stealing the next Albert Einstein or Mary Curie from us.
It is ok to tell kids that you don’t know something, but you can do so in a way that stokes their natural curiosity for the world. You can fill them with a sense of wonder and awe about the natural world. If you do these things there is a much better chance they will grow into adults that have a hunger for science, and a drive to protect this amazing planet.
Or you can tell them that the world is 6000 years old, that god created it in 6 days, that if they like someone of the same gender they will burn in hell fire for all eternity, and that an invisible sky daddy grants wishes if you pray to him, but only if you do so in the right way and read the right holy book.
One seems like a great way to raise a kid, the other seems like child abuse.
Watch this movie with someone you love, and then talk about science afterward. I bet you will talk about it in a way you might not have before. Science can often be confused with “what I do in 7th period” or “what nerds in lab coats do” but it has real benefits to our lives. It is real people using their amazing intelligence to discover things about the world. Things that make us better as a society, things that show us how much we still need to figure out, and in some very lucky cases things that cure sick children of a horrible illness.